I kicked one in the head by accident. With a grunt it came awake and opened its eyes. I froze, thinking that if I ran it would only chase me down. It seemed to register me—but as neither a threat nor a potential meal—then closed its eyes again.
I continued on, placing each foot with care until I had passed the carpet of hollows and reached a wall. Here the tunnel ended. The way out was above me: a chute leading upward a hundred feet or so to an open grate and that cluttered room. There were holds along the chute, but they were spaced too far apart, built for hollows’ acrobatic tongues, not human hands and feet. I stood peering up at a ring of dim light far overhead, hoping a friendly face might appear there, but I dared not shout for help.
In desperation I jumped, scrabbling at the hard wall and grasping for the first hold. Somehow I reached it. Pulled myself up. Suddenly I was more than ten feet off the ground. (How had I done that?) I jumped again and reached the next hold—and the next one. I was climbing the chute, my legs launching me higher and my arms reaching farther than I knew was possible—this is insane—and then I was at the top, poking my head out, pushing myself up into the room.
I wasn’t even breathing hard.
I looked around, saw Emma’s firelight, and ran toward it across the cluttered floor. I tried calling out but couldn’t seem to make the words. No matter—there she was, on the other side of the open glass door, in the office. Warren was on this side, tied to the chair Miss Glassbill had sat in, and when I came close he groaned fearfully and knocked himself over. Then their faces were at the door, suspicious and peering—Emma and Miss Peregrine and Horace, and behind them other ymbrynes and friends, too. All there, alive, beautiful. They had been freed from their cells only to be imprisoned once more in here, locked behind Caul’s bomb-proof bunker door, safe from wights (for now) but trapped.
Their expressions were fearful, and the closer I got to the glass door, the more terrified they became. It’s me, I tried to say, but the words didn’t come out right, and my friends jumped back.
It’s me, it’s Jacob!
What came out instead of English was a husky snarl and three long, fat tongues, waving in the air before me, spat from my own mouth in my attempt to speak. And then I heard one of my friends—Enoch, it was Enoch—say aloud the terrible thing that had just occurred to me:
“It’s a hollow!”
I’m not, I tried to say, I’m not—but all evidence was to the contrary. I had somehow become one of them, been bitten and turned, like a vampire, or been killed, eaten, recycled, reincarnated—oh god oh god oh god it can’t be …
I tried to reach out with my hands, to make some sign that might be recognized as human now that my mouth had failed me, but it was my tongues that reached out.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t know how to drive this thing
Emma swiped blindly at me with her hand—and connected. Sudden, searing pain flashed through me.
And then I woke up.
Or rather, jolted by sudden pain, I woke back into my body—my hurt, human body, still lying in the dark in the slack jaws of a sleeping hollow. And yet I was still the hollow above, too, snatching my hurt tongue back into my mouth and stumbling away from the door. I was somehow dually present in both my mind and the hollow’s, and I found now that I could control both—could lift my own arm and the hollow’s, turn my own head and the hollow’s, and do it all without saying a word aloud, but merely by thinking.
Without realizing it—without consciously trying—I had mastered the hollow to such a degree (seeing through its eyes, feeling through its skin) that it had felt, for a time, like I was the hollow. But now a distinction was becoming clear. I was this fallible and broken-bodied boy, deep in a hole surrounded by groggy monsters. They were waking, all but the one who had brought me down here in its jaws (it had so much dust in its system that it might sleep for years), and they were sitting up now, shaking the numbness from their limbs.
But they didn’t seem interested in killing me. They were watching me, quiet and attentive. Semicircled around like well-behaved children at storytime. Waiting for input.
I rolled myself out of the hollow’s jaws and onto the floor. I could sit up but was too hurt to stand. But they could stand.
I didn’t say it, didn’t even think it, really. It felt like doing, only it wasn’t me who did it. They did it, eleven hollowgast all rising to their feet before me in perfect synchrony. This was astounding, of course, and yet I felt a profound sense of calm spreading through me. I was relaxing into the purest depths of my ability. Something about shutting down all our minds at once, then bringing them back online together—a collective reboot—had brought us into a kind of harmony, allowing me to tap into the unconscious heart of my power, as well as into the hollows’ minds at just the moment their defenses were down.
And now they were mine. Marionettes I could control with invisible strings. But how much could I do? What were the limits? How many could I control at once, discretely?
To find out, I began to play.
In the room above, I lay the hollow down.
He lay down.
(They were all hes, I had decided.)
I made the ones in front of me jump.
They were two distinct groups now, the loner above and the ones before me. I tried controlling each individually, making one raise a hand without the rest doing it. It was a bit like asking just one toe on your foot to wiggle—difficult, not impossible—but before long I’d gotten the hang of it. The less conscious I was of trying, the easier it became. The control came most naturally when I simply imagined an action being performed.